No. 6 Minnesota Vikings (10-6) @
No. 3 Green Bay Packers (11-5)
There is one thing that the Green Bay Packers have to focus on so that the Minnesota Vikings don’t pull off back-to-back wins against them, and it shouldn’t be too difficult: they need to make sure quarterback Christian Ponder has a low-impact performance.
Of course, the obvious thought would be to smother Adrian Peterson, but the Packers should know better than to expect to stop him. Peterson has averaged more yards per game in his career (120.2) against Green Bay, than any opponent that he has faced at least three times.
In Week 13, Peterson trampled Green Bay’s defense with 210 rushing yards, but the Vikings (3-5 on the road) fell short at Lambeau, thanks to a poor performance from Ponder.
Last week, Peterson faced the Packers in Minnesota while on a personal mission to beat the single season rushing record. He fell nine yards shy, but nonetheless, ran all over Green Bay once again with 199 yards on the ground. To go along with that, Ponder had the best game of his career and helped give the Vikings a slight 37-34 edge.
Seeing that Minnesota, playing at home, barely beat Green Bay with an unusual exceptional dual effort from Peterson and Ponder, the Packers should be confident heading back to Lambeau Field for a January game against a team accustomed to an indoor environment.
Even if Peterson runs all over Green Bay once again, which he probably will, the Packers should have little trouble stopping the Vikings. Expect Ponder to be a non-factor in this game, especially given his inexperience and average of less than one passing touchdown per game on the road this season.
On the offensive end for Green Bay, expect the usual for Aaron Rodgers, who had 651 passing yards combined in his two games against a Minnesota defense which has lost its dominance over the last few years.
Green Bay: 27
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks (11-5) @
No. 4 Washington Redskins (10-6)
I’ve been hoping for this matchup for the majority of the season, and finally it’s here: arguably the two leading Rookie of the Year candidates facing off in a win-or-go-home game.
The Seattle Seahawks have been the dark horse of the NFC, rising into the conversation for the best team in their conference. Riding the success of the deadly combination of running back Marshawn Lynch and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, along with a defense that has allowed the least points in the NFL, the Seahawks may be the most feared team in the NFC at this moment.
Then there are the Washington Redskins who have pulled off a miraculous seven-game winning streak to outlast the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East division title. Behind rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris the Redskins have beat the odds after starting the season 3-6.
So how will they fare facing off?
The first thing to point out is how poorly Seattle has played away from home. On the road, the Seahawks are 3-5 and have given up nearly 10 points per game more than their home average. Their defense has also given up about a touchdown more per game on the road.
Veteran Marshawn Lynch is third in the league in rushing yards, but he is facing the number one rushing defense in the NFL, so he will be tested to his limits.
That puts the pressure on Wilson, facing the third worst passing defense; but despite his incredible debut season his poor road performances should be recognized. Though he is arguably the best quarterback in the league at home (17 touchdowns, two interceptions, 123.6 passer rating), Wilson has not displayed even remotely similar statistics on the road (nine touchdowns, eight interceptions, 83.1 passer rating.) With that said, along with the possibility of Lynch being shut down by Washington’s superior run defense, the red-hot Seahawks offense may have difficulty scoring.
But of course, the Redskins have the challenge of facing the No. 1 scoring defense. However, the tandem of RGIII (third in passer rating) and Morris (second in rushing yards) is difficult to contain, even for the toughest of defensive units.
This should be a very tight game throughout, but I say RGIII will prevail as the only rookie quarterback to advance to the divisional playoff round this year.
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Taylor C. Snow can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @taylorcsnow.